New report paints ‘troubling’ picture of inmate mental health treatment


A shocking report exposed the prison service's struggles to deal with inmates with serious mental health issues.

A shocking report exposed the prison service’s struggles to deal with inmates with serious mental health issues.

The Mental Welfare Commission (MWC) study for Scotland found that inmates, some with psychosis, were held alone in “sparse and uncomfortable” cells for 22 hours a day, adding to their distress.

Others had problems accessing essential medicines, which led to gaps in their treatment and, as a result, the women experienced a “significant deterioration” in their mental health.

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The report also states that women were not able to easily access intensive psychiatric care beds or secure forensic beds for women “due to pressure from beds in local wards and lack of adequate supplies. ‘medium security women’s facilities’.

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Focusing on the cases of nine prisoners imprisoned between 2017 and 2020, the MWC study follows similar research carried out by the European Committee for the Prevention of Torture and Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the CPT) which has investigated Scottish police and prisons in October. 2018. This raised serious concerns about five women from Cornton Vale, including concerns about their isolation.

It also comes five months after a Scottish government-commissioned review of forensic mental health services in Scotland revealed shortcomings in the women’s field and recommended major reform, including the re-establishment of a high security service. for women in the state hospital by November of this year. The government has yet to respond to the report.

The MWC study found that for the minority of women with complex mental health issues, some were held in isolation in their cells for up to 82 days in a row as the SPS struggled to cope with the management of their lives. conditions.

He indicates that “several of the women suffered from acute psychosis during their isolation. In this environment, they can be locked up alone in a cell for up to 22 hours a day or more.

“The severity of symptoms and the level of disturbance of the women seemed to worsen in this environment, as did their personal care and the possibility of any meaningful interactions with others.”

The report’s recommendations include that all inmates, including those in segregation, should be provided with a “bare minimum of at least two hours of meaningful human contact per day.”

Claire Lamza, Senior Manager (Practitioners) at the Mental Wellness Commission, said: “This document opens a window into the lives of some of the most marginalized women in society.

“This gives a glimpse of the irreparable damage done to these people, and we can only imagine the wider impact on their families and communities.”

There are currently 291 women in custody – 207 convicted, 73 not tried and 11 convicted pending – and that number has dropped significantly due to the Covid pandemic.

With a contract awarded last year to replace the existing Cornton Vale Women’s Prison with a new facility on the same site outside Stirling, the report notes that it is “expected that women with health needs mental health are no longer supported in the SRU ”.

Scottish Labor Justice spokeswoman Pauline McNeill described the report as “a wake-up call”, while Scottish Conservative spokesperson for social protection, Craig Hoy, said the review raised serious concerns which could not be allowed to continue.

An SPS spokesperson said: “We recognize that women entering prison may have acute mental health issues and we try to meet these needs by working with colleagues in health services, but our ability to doing so is somewhat limited, although we are still working to try to improve this situation.

Mental Wellness Minister Kevin Stewart said, “This is an important report that contains a number of recommendations that will be carefully considered.

“Our Mental Health Transition and Recovery Plan released in October of last year clearly indicated our commitment to continue to work with partners to seek better support for people with mental illness within the mental health system. criminal justice.

“The plan is backed by £ 120million from a recovery and renewal fund and focuses on the specific mental health needs of women and girls to achieve better results in a variety of settings.”

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